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Harvard looked inward and asked whether it is doing enough to make sure all students, regardless of their race or gender, benefit equally from a Harvard education. The answer came Thursday in the form of a wide-ranging and critical report touted by President Drew G. Faust. The conclusion: There’s more work to do.
“Harvard College is neither a finishing school nor a luxury good for America’s elites. Its primary work does not end with the admissions process but, rather, begins the moment its students enter its gates,” the report says.
The 37-page report, written by the College’s diversity and inclusion working group, details three main areas in which Harvard should focus: bolstering training around student life diversity issues, augmenting the accessibility and diversity of departmental offerings, and promoting diversity among the faculty and College’s disciplinary bodies. The report calls for the creation of a University-wide task force to continually review ways to support diversity at Harvard.
A few hours after Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana emailed the report to undergraduates Thursday morning, Harvard President Drew G. Faust wrote in an email to Harvard affiliates that she would indeed create a University-wide task force in accordance with the recommendations, which she called “thoughtful” and “one important foundation on which to build a more truly inclusive community.”
The working group that authored the report was convened by the College in the spring of 2014—about a month after the student art project “I, Too, Am Harvard” documented the experiences of black students at Harvard, earning national media attention. The task force is chaired by Jonathan L. Walton, the Pusey minister in Memorial Church who last fall joined students in “die-in” protests as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The group—comprised of students, faculty, and administrators—met throughout the 2014-2015 academic year to study how peer institutions handle issues of diversity and consult University stakeholders before issuing a set of recommendations.
The report comes as students across the nation have erupted in protest against racism on their campuses. At Yale, students have held a string of marches in response to allegations of racism on their campus, and their president, Peter Salovey, responded this week by offering a set of policy changes, including doubling funding for cultural centers and diversifying faculty hires.
And Wednesday, dozens of Harvard students, faculty, and administrators joined a rally and marched to Porter Square to support student activism efforts across the country.
Harvard’s diversity report is expansive and at times critical in its analysis. It covers a range of topics, from the College’s residential advising system to biases in academic departments. It offers a set of both short- and long-term recommendations.
“In our work we were committed to not just identifying areas where everybody can feel included, but we wanted to track certain institutional practices that many take for granted but are often points of exclusion,” Walton said in an interview. “We were in conversation with Dean Khurana’s office the entire time because we know there were some issues that just could not wait.”
The report places particular emphasis on extracurricular activities and life in Harvard’s House life, offering several recommendations to bolster professional diversity training for House tutors and administrators and standardize diversity support systems across the Houses.
Using strong language, the report’s authors condemn an apparent lack of transparency in tutor hiring and discrepancies between individual Houses’ allocation of resources for diversity events. The report emphasizes the need to “convey the institution’s commitment to cultures of inclusion and appreciation of diversity…[which] is particularly true in the college/house systems that are randomized, lest the historical and cultural defaults of the institution prevail.”
Student and tutors, the report indicated, said some Houses have, on the whole, a more diverse staff of tutors or residential scholars than others. Some Houses also also offer more prestigious and better-funded House-specific scholarships for undergraduates than others. Additionally, the allocation of funds to diversity programming can vary widely across Houses, the committee wrote, leading many undergraduates to consider their particular Housemasters solely responsible for determining House priorities.
“Overall, students sense that house life depends on the particular housemasters and established house traditions, which invariably leads to inconsistency across the College,” the working group wrote, adding that many House masters disagreed with the claim.
According to the report, some tutors of color also “expressed surprise and dismay” when they were appointed race relations tutors without their prior consent.
As an example of perceived inequality between the Houses, the report specifically referenced a Crimson story published last spring detailing concerns from students in Dunster House who said the House did not offer adequate support to bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, or queer students.
“Any perceptions of inequality and lack of accountability comprise the credibility of the house system. The campus witnessed the result of failed transparency toward the end of the 2014-15 academic year, as students levied charges of discrimination against Dunster House,” the task force later wrote.
In addition to detailing needs for tutor hiring, the report’s authors wrote that many students and tutors emphasized the need to overhaul and improve diversity training and responsibilities for all House members. “Few” were optimistic about the House’s current use of race relations tutors, and “many,” according to the report, characterized tutor diversity training during orientation as “inadequate.”
People interviewed by the task force also requested more diversity training for staff, faculty members, and teaching fellows, a group that some said seemed “ill-equipped to facilitate conversations deemed controversial,” according to the report.
The task force also recommended that administrators “design cultural competency training” for all College staff who regularly interact with students.
In its recommendations on student life, the committee wrote that House administrators should create “a cohesive series of co-curricular activities that address the challenges and benefits associated with learning and living in a diverse residential community.”
In particular, the committee’s report calls for the creation of exhibits and competitions that showcase art about diversity and the removal of “unnecessary markers of social distinction to uphold the dignity of all students.”
The report also calls for reforms to Dorm Crew, the student-run cleanup service. The report suggests that the College should provide meals or students who work for Dorm Crew during pre-orientation and give workers the right to refuse to clean especially dirty rooms.
The report also calls for greater administrative support of student cultural groups and an examination of existing cultural spaces on campus.
Administrators have already implemented two student life-related suggestions that the committee made previously. The committee called for stricter enforcement of rules banning event lines specifically for students eligible for the Student Events Fund, which provides students with demonstrated financial aid free or discounted tickets for events, and administrators have since banned those lines. Last year, the College also kept two undergraduate dining halls open throughout spring break at the working group’s suggestion.
ACADEMICS AND ADMINISTRATION
The committee also called on Harvard to address the diversity of its academic offerings, faculty and administration, and adjudicatory bodies.
The working group wrote that some departmental practices can contribute to “homogeneous pipelines within select fields,” in contrast to what they characterized as the College’s desire for all students to have equal access to every concentration.
Of the thousands of courses currently offered by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, only about 217 courses “critically engage with issues of identity and difference,” according to the report. Most of the programs that address diversity fall within the Social Sciences division, the report’s authors wrote. The committee recommended expanding the number of courses that cover diversity and flagging those courses so students can search for them on the online course catalog.
To increase diversity among departments’ undergraduate concentrators, the committee recommended that departments outside of the Social Sciences division develop “pathways through the concentrations that would be attainable for all students, regardless of background.” It also recommended increasing the number of courses related to diversity within the College’s General Education program. That core curriculum, currently under review, was deemed as “failing on a variety of fronts” last spring.
Beyond diversifying course offerings, the committee called on Harvard to hire more diverse faculty and staff members. In the report, committee members wrote that while each year Harvard’s newest freshman class is “more racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse,” its faculty, staff, and administrators “continue to lag behind in terms of diversity.”
The committee also recommended diversifying the College’s two disciplinary bodies and tasked the University’s Mental Health Services with developing a strategy to better reach “historically underserved populations.”
In the long term, the committee wrote, Harvard should also bring together offices that handle issues of diversity. That kind of administrative restructuring would “streamlin[e] its current structure into a much tighter and integrated set of offices with a greater level of collaboration.”
—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.
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